The Ricardo Flores Magon Academy charter school can continue operating. Today, the Charter School Institute voted to extend the embattled school's contract for five more years -- with several stipulations. Among them: Find a new leader. The school's founder and most recent principal, Marcos Martinez, resigned along with two others in the wake of several complaints and at least one lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that Martinez discriminated against former teacher Claudia Mitchell because though she herself is Latina, she is married to a white man and uses his last name. As explained in our cover story, "A Hard Line," Martinez fired Mitchell after she came down with swine flu, was hospitalized and called in sick.
Other teachers told Westword that the sort of behavior Mitchell describes in her lawsuit was common. Teachers say they were fired for disagreeing with Martinez, for supporting colleagues he didn't like and, in one case, for refusing to change student grades. Parents complained about Martinez, too. Some started a petition calling for his ouster that said the school's discipline was too harsh, that Martinez ignored parents' concerns and that he threatened those who asked too many questions.
Last month, the charter school's board of directors asked Martinez, chess instructor Dominic Martinez and curriculum director Gabriela Guzman to take paid leaves of absence while the board investigated complaints. The board didn't elaborate on what the complaints entailed, only saying that, "In conjunction with the resignation of two RFMA teachers on February 1, the Board became aware of practices at the school that may violate the mission of RFMA and applicable law."
It wasn't long before Martinez resigned. According to a newspaper called Liberty's Torch in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Martinez is pursuing opening a new school there. The school, it reports, will have many of the same features but a new name: Poder Academy.
Meanwhile, it looks as though Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, which Martinez named for a Mexican anarchist, will continue without him. The nine-member board of the Charter School Institute, which first authorized the school in 2006, voted unanimously today to extend the school's contract. Chairman Wayne Eckerling says the school is in good financial standing, has high test scores and a newly committed board of trustees.
Eckerling was hesitant to comment on whether Martinez's departure played a big role in the contract extension. "The thing that makes me, as a board member, hopeful is that their board has stepped up," he says. "Whether there was a leadership change or not, the board has stepped up. That's what we like to see."
Below, read the Charter School Institute staff's recommendation to renew the school, which includes "milestones" that the institute expects the school to meet. The final contract has yet to be negotiated, but it will likely include most of those stipulations.
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